Saturday, 14 July 2012

A mysterious death

Today (14 July) marks the 114th anniversary of the death of Bertha Spragg (a sister of our 2xgreat grandfather, Philemon Lewis COLEY) at Silverdale. The Brisbane Courier reported it as a "supposed case of suicide".

The event itself raised a number of questions for investigation. Who was this "adopted son" never before mentioned within the family? Did the reference to "Ipswich Hospital" mean the same in the 1890s as it did in the 1950s — a mental health facility? Who believed that "she did not appear to have anything the matter with her" on the day before her death?

The nature of the newspaper story added further layers of complexity. Had it not included a reference to her father (Mr P Coley), the document (which twice mis-spelled her husband's name) might never have been found. How could the paper's "Ipswich Correspondent" have got the name and place of residence wrong but included so much other detail.

Any reader of the depositions sworn at the inquest will form a good idea of which witness was the source for the news story, and cannot help but wonder how or why he would misreport his own address.

On 21 July 1898, Mr Sealy JP concluded that Bertha died by her own hand and that there were "no suspicious circumstances". And there the matter rested.

But modern family members, brought up on a diet of television crime series, would love to ask several of those who gave evidence about the sequence of events, about times and distances, and about the purported reasons for some actions.

Perhaps most of all, we would like to ask Philemon COLEY (the family patriarch) why he did not attend the inquest to report on the events of the week before Bertha's death when was living at her old home,but sent her brother John Thomas instead?

If it is true that every family tree contains at least one dark secret or impenetrable mystery, then the tragic death of Bertha SPRAGG looks like ours.

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